By Julia Taylor Kennedy and Pooja Jain-Link | Harvard Business Review | June 21, 2021
As we continue to adjust to Covid-19’s disruptions and see Black Americans killed by police, hate crimes against Asian Americans surge, and people in Georgia fight for equal voting rights, the question of what “belonging” means in American society is reaching into the workplace as it never has before. CEOs, corporate boards, investors, consumers, and employees continue to demand action against racial injustice and movement toward more-equitable workplaces — ones where all employees belong, regardless of their racial or ethnic identities. Against this backdrop, business leaders no longer require a “business case” for a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I); they are well aware. Now they need corporate leaders and advisers to help them keep the ambitious promises they made over the course of the past year.
To impose the sweeping change needed to realize those promises, CEOs need all hands on deck: senior leaders, managers, and employees at every level of the company.
But widespread support for any effort can be difficult to garner. And as we’ve seen over the past year, DE&I work can be particularly divisive. At Coqual, a nonprofit global think tank in the DE&I space (formerly the Center for Talent Innovation), we’ve long heard the refrain, “What about me?” A focus on one identity group, such as Black employees, can feel to others as though it comes at the cost of their own group’s career interests and workplace well-being. A crucial way to galvanize support and manage complex change is to create a culture where every employee, regardless of their background, feels that they belong. It’s a lesson companies can teach U.S. society as a whole.